Thinking Tech

GPS military weapon gives soldiers an edge

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U.S. soldiers fighting in Afghanistan have added a new GPS-powered weapon to their arsenal.

U.S. soldiers fighting in Afghanistan have added a new GPS-guided weapon to their arsenal.

Born out of the army's Accelerated Precision Mortar Initiative program or APMI, the high-tech cartridges were sent to a combat team last month, with seven more infantry units slated to receive them within the next six months.

Mortar weaponry can be thought of as a portable, modern equivalent of war cannons. While the technology is simpler to operate and well-suited for trench warfare, its most notable drawback has always been what tended to be a low accuracy rate in hitting targets, such as bunkers. To compensate, commanders are often forced to bombard enemies with several rounds of ammunition.

Insurgents have taken advantage of this inherent flaw by deliberately attacking highly populated areas, which makes it difficult for armed forces to fend them off without risking the destruction of property and civilian casualties.

Similar to other standard mortar shells, the APMI XM395 cartridge consists of highly explosive material housed inside a 120mm projectile body. But it's also equipped with a GPS receiver located in the nose, computer-controlled aerodynamic directional fins to keep the round on a programmed trajectory and folding fins in the tail to ensure stability.

Souping up a mortar cartridge with all these high-tech upgrades allows it to achieve an accuracy requirement of 10 meters CEP or Circular Error Probable. This simply means that if you drew a circle around an enemy target at 10 meters radius, the rounds would fall inside the circle at least half of the time.

Soldiers carry around 25 high-explosive rounds to take out a target. A more precise weapon would reduce the need for reloading and allows troops to be more mobile.

"Typically mortars are fired in volleys against an area target because of their inherent inaccuracy, but with APMI, you have the potential to destroy a target with only one or two rounds," says Peter Burke, deputy product manager of PEO Ammunition.

Such improved accuracy also gives commanders the ability to hit a target cleanly or at least with limited collateral damage.

Patti Alameda, competency manager of the Mortar and Common Fire Control Systems Division admitted that military personally dealt with many "technological hurdles" in developing the weapon systems, but considers the end result well worth it.

"The ability of people to work as a team and integrate all of the sophisticated technology in a way that reduces the burden on the soldier is really how we achieve this leap forward in capability," Alameda says.

Photo: U.S. Army

Tuan Nguyen

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Tuan C. Nguyen is a freelance science journalist based in New York City. He has written for the U.S. News and World Report, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News, AOL, Yahoo! News and LiveScience. Formerly, he was reporter and producer for the technology section of ABCNews.com. He holds degrees from the University of California Los Angeles and the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure